Fort Simpson

(continuer en français) – Last updated: August 26, 2022

Fort Simpson is 310 miles, 500 kilometres, from Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. It can now be reached by the MacKenzie Highway, and taking the free ferry across the Liard River. The village is located on an island at the confluence of the Mackenzie River. In the past, communications were dependent on the rivers, by canoe in the summer and by sleigh when they were frozen.

However, the river is still useful for transport, even though there is little activity in this vast, sparsely populated region. The Coast Guard remains vigilant, however, carrying out multiple missions on the territory.

Prior to the creation of Fort Simpson, the site was used seasonally as a gathering place for First Nations. Originally, there was a first fort, Fort of the Forks, established by fur traders in 1804 on the MacKenzie River. Then the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post in 1822 around which the village settled.

Some old buildings have been preserved and gathered in the historical park on the river bank. In the middle of the houses there is also this old barn which was built around 1920. Its first owner was the Indian Affairs Agent. The two-storey log barn is one of the oldest surviving structures in Fort Simpson.

After the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Catholic missions from 1848 and then the Anglican missions contributed to the development of Fort Simpson. The two missions competed, as elsewhere in the North, but their action promoted education, care and the establishment of agriculture with potatoes and some livestock.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Pope John Paul II visited Fort Simpson in 1987 and celebrated mass there. The trip was originally planned for 1984 but weather conditions did not make it possible. Eager to keep his promise, the Pope added a stopover to a trip to the United States three years later.

The current St. David’s Anglican Church in Fort Simpson dates back to 1930. It was assembled on site with prefabricated elements transported on the river. It incorporates parts of the former chapel built in 1862.

The current population is 1,200, two thirds of which are First Nations and Métis. Traditional activities continue to occupy part of the population with hunting, fishing and trapping. Public employment also provides some of the resources, as well as building and maintaining infrastructure such as roads.

Inherited from the religious missions, the village is equipped with a health centre and different levels of education. For example, the Bompas School was originally built as part of the Anglican mission. Today the civil authorities have taken over control of these establishments, also financing jobs that stabilise the local population.

Fort Simpson is attracting an increasing number of visitors, especially on their way to Nahanni National Park. The tourist office is ideally located at the entrance to the village and illustrates the hopes placed in the growth of tourist activity. It is even interesting to see a golf course set on green grass. This is a reminder that Fort Simpson was once known for its agricultural production, such as vegetables, a rare commodity in such a northern region.

Nahanni National Park is famous for its 315-foot, 96-metre, Virginia Falls. It is quite difficult to access, with air travel being a good alternative from the rudimentary Fort Simpson airport. Then kayaking or hiking allows to discover these wild sceneries more closely.

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  1. Interesting post. I have never been to Fort Simpson, but have been to Yellowknife several times in regard to my job. The North is an interesting place to visit, but I would not want to live there. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yellowknife is both a large and new city compared to Fort Simpson. Driving hundreds of kilometres of roads to reach the small, scattered communities gives an idea of the challenges faced by the people living there. Like you, I would find it difficult to live there permanently. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • At first glance it is easy to underestimate these small settlements. As is often the case, as soon as you start to search a bit, you find interesting things. I am glad that you are interested in this too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this indication, it makes more interesting to write articles on the three Canadian territories with still limited infrastructures but which already attract visitors. In the Yukon, tourism is one of the main resources.


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